Episode 579: Knights vs Rooks
The Flying Cloud droned south south-east, engines at three quarter
power, with Geschwader to port, engines at full to maintain
formation in line abreast. On the bridge, Everett studied the island
ahead, where the mysterious cruiser and the Drachen were rising
from the field where they'd been providing covering fire for their troops.
Even from this distance, he could easily recognize the lines of the
Japanese vessel. It occurred to him that they were not far from the place
the cruiser had ambushed and destroyed his previous command, His Majesty's
Airship R-212, the Flying Lady. This seemed a fitting location for
what might be their final encounter.
"Those gentlemen turned up where we expected them to," MacKiernan remarked
from beside him.
"Indeed they did," said Everett. "It is time for us to take advantage of
this courtesy. Fleming, give us a turn left to 160 and maintain three
"Left to 160. Three quarter power on all engines," said the helmsman.
"Do you think they'll fall for our deceptions?" asked MacKiernan.
"This does seem likely," Everett replied. "They'll be low on ballast after
long flight, unwilling to climb above their pressure hight. They'll think
we're in same situation and trying to escape around the eastern end of the
island. I see they've made their turn to cut us off."
In the distance ahead, the other vessels had turned right, to fly due east
in line astern. For several minutes, the only sound was the drone of the
engines as the two small pairs of ships converged at an angle. As those
minutes passed, it became clear the others were were drawing ahead.
Everett nodded in satisfaction. "Very good," he remarked. "Let us see if t
hey'll take the bait. Signal Manfred that it's time to divide our forces,
then turn right to 250."
Jenkins picked up the Aldis lamp and worked the trigger. A signal flashed
from the Geschwader in reply. Then the two ships had turned away
from each other, the Flying Cloud heading southwest while the her
consort reversed course to fled northwest. After a moment of indecision,
the cruiser and the Drachen responded in kind, the former turning
left to intercept the Flying Cloud while the later pursued the
At the ballast station, Sarah gave a chuckle of delight. "They fell for
it!" shwe cried.
"They had little choice, given the relative speed of our four vessels,"
Everett replied calmly. "Now it is up Manfred and us to do our parts."
On the bridge of the Geschwader, the watch officer set down his
binoculars. "They did as Kapitan Everett expected," he remarked.
"They had no choice, Ernst," said Manfred. "The Flying Cloud can
outrun the Drachen, so my brother must follow us. He will also
wish to settle the unfinished business between him and me."
"They have 14 kilometers per hour on us," Ernst warned. "They're certain to
"That will take them some time," Manfred observed. "We will use this time
to draw them away from Everett. Elevatorman. Give me climb to 2500
"Climb to 2500 meters."
The nose lifted as the elevatorman spun his wheel. Above him, the
altimeter crept upward.
"Passing pressure height," said the ballast officer as reached 1500
"Steady as she goes," said Manfred.
Ernst frowned. In the hull above them, hydrogen had expanded fill gas
cells. With every additional meter they ascended, excess would vent from
the relief valves, forcing them to drop ballast to compensate. "Can we
afford this climb?" he asked. "The cost will be ruinous if we face a
"This will not become a problem," Manfred said calmly. "Now let us see
if the wind forecast was correct."
Lothar studied the distant vessel in annoyance. "Oberer
Aussichtspunkt, what is the range to our target?"
"It has increased to 18 kilometers, Kapitan," came the reply from
the upper lookout. "They are pulling away."
"Verdamnt," swore Lothar. "The tailwind must be stronger at
their altitude. Still, that can has only win them a momentary reprieve.
We will follow them. Elevatorman, climb to 2500 meters."
"Climb to 2500 meters."
"Is this wise, Kapitan," the watch officer asked. "We're already
low on ballast after the attack on the island."
"Our ship is bigger than my brother's," Lothar replied dismissively. "We
can afford the loss more than he. Oberer Aussichtspunkt, what is
the range now?"
"It has opened to 20 kilometers, but we're beginning to close. We'll be in
firing range in twelve minutes."
Manfred glanced back toward the island, now far to the south. He felt a
brief twinge of apprehension. They'd left the cruiser far behind, in no
position to offer support if anything went wrong. But surely this was
hardly likely. His ship has overwhelmingly more powerful than his
adversary's . He would crush his brother like an insect.
"Oberer Aussichtspunkt to bridge," came a report. "Target has
started a turn to the right!"
Lothar looked forward and raised his eyebrows in surprise. Their quarry had
reversed course again, to approach them head on. Now the range was closing
"What can he be trying to accomplish?" muttered the watch officer.
Lothar shrugged. "He must hope to get close enough to land some shots
before we destroy him. No, my brother, your race is run. There is no
hope for you today."
He turned to give the order to fire. As he did, enough call came down
from the lookout.
"Vas is das?"
"Range?" Manfred called to the stern gunner
"20 km," came the reply. "They've climbed to our altitude and begun to
Manfred nodded. "It is time. Helmsman, hard to starboard. Bring us to
The helmsman spun the wheel and the horizon swung to follow. On a faster
ship, this might have over-stressed the hull, but the Geschwader was a
sturdy cargo-hauler, more than up to the task. Then the Drachen
was dead ahead, with the island in the distance behind her.
"We'll be in range of their guns in 8 minutes," said Ernst.
"That will be enough time," said Manfred. He stepped to controls they'd
installed on bridge. "Cargo hold, are you ready to drop the aerial
Clamps opened and the torpedo fell away from the hold, The it was racing
ahead, propeller glittering in the sun. Manfred watched it through the
eyepiece, adjusting its course with controls he remembered from a previous
life the seemed suddenly vivid. For a moment, he remembered, the snarl of
the engine, the wind shrieking past struts and wires as he lined up his
target and reached for the trigger. He felt a brief instant of regret.
"I am sorry, my brother," he whispered. "You chose the wrong side, and now
we both must pay the price."
The Captain smiled as the Flying Cloud crossed ahead of the
cruiser. The English had fallen into the trap.
"He's heading toward the island," said the watch officer.
"That's the only direction available to him," the Captain replied. "He's
trying to lead way from the weaker ship to save his comrade in arms. This
gesture is noble, but futile. We are faster than he is. We''ll continue
this course, turn left to get behind him, pin him against the mountains,
and destroy him."
Now the Flying Cloud was ahead and to the left. The Captain
watched the English vessel, taking bearings from the compass, until his
own airship was dead astern. "We are in position," he announced. "Turn
left to 210.
"Left to 210."
"Upper Lookout, what is the range?"
"12 kilometers," came the reply. "We don't seem to be closing."
The Captain frowned, then turned to his watch officer. "Call the plant.
Tell them to do better."
The drone of the engines increased very slightly, but their target
remained stubbornly ahead. Had this been open sea, she might have
escaped, but a barrier loomed in front of her.
"Upper Lookout to Bridge, target has altered course to the southeast."
"He has realized his mistake," said the Captain. "He cannot outrun us
and he's too low on consumables to climb above the ridge, so he's trying
to flee around the east end of the island again. This will not succeed.
Turn left to 140 to keep him pinned against the terrain and maintain
"Left to 140 and maintain full speed."
The Captain watched the maneuver and smiled. "Good. We have him now."
Everett took a bearing and nodded. The cruiser was now behind tp port,
slowly gaining ground after he'd ordered Iwamoto to ease off slightly on
the power. To starboard the ridge loomed ever closer. It seemed they
were trapped against the terrain by a superior force. But `seemed' was
an uncertain word -- likely to fail when put the test.
"I believe its time to make the turn we spoke of," he announced. "Fleming,
hard right to 270 degrees."
The Aussie spun the wheel. Above them, cables stretched and girders creaked
as they came under strain. Will she stand the load? Everett
wondered. Was there any doubt? They'd spent hours in the Practice Area
taking her measure for just such a moment.
"Steady on 270," said Fleming. If the Aussie had been sweating, he was
doing his best not to show it.
"Do you think they'll continue to take the bait?" asked MacKiernan.
"I believe so," Everett replied. "We've handed them what seems an easy
victory, and they can have no reason to suspect their peril."
"They've turned right to fly parallel to the ridge," the lookout
"We can see this," the Captain said with a frown. There'd be time later
to punish the man for wasting his time with such an unnecessary
"What are they doing?" muttered the watch officer.
"They have made a mistake, hoping to catch us by surprise," said the
Captain. How to take advantage of this? he wondered. Should
he turn behind the Englishman, prolonging a tail chase that had already
taken too long, or turn hard right to keep their foe pinned against the
terrain. He hesitated for a moment, remembering those cryptic warnings
in the flight manual, then made his choice. It was the only choice
possible for a warrior of the Emperor.
"Hard right to 270."
"Hard right to 270."
The helmsman spun his wheel. The horizon began to swing, The Captain
nodded. "You were a worthy foe, Captain Everett," he said. "But now
it is over for you. You cannot escape."
Then there was a loud crash from aft.
Everett watched as cruiser began her turn. For moment, it seemed she
might complete it. Then without warning, both vertical fins folded,
tore away, and fell toward the sea. Freed of their weight, the
cruiser pitched forward and began to surge tail-first toward the
Michaelson rose from the chart table, where he'd been studying their
map of the island, and came to stand beside him. "I assume you had
reason to expect this," he remarked.
"Quite," said Everett. "I spoke with Captain Rosendahl when he visited
us with the Sunnyvale last year and he mentioned a deficiency they
discovered in the design. Instead of the usual cruciform structure, the
fins of this class are only anchored to the ring girders. This didn't
prove as strong as the Americans expected, and they've imposed restrictions
on high speed maneuvers until they can contrive some reinforcement, but
this problem only turned up during trials, so the Japanese cannot have
been aware of its severity. As we have just seen."
"What will happen to them now," the Commodore asked.
Everett studied the other ship, which had risen the almost three times their
altitude -- well above her pressure height. He shook his head sadly.
"This will depend on whether they can bring their vessel under control
before they climb so high they lose too much hydrogen to arrest the plunge
that must surely follow," he observed. "We had a similar experience on
the R-67 two years ago. I fear that these fellows may not fare as well."
Baron Warfield lowered the binoculars and handed them to Bludge. The
butler accepted it wordlessly and resumed being unobtrusive.
"What were the outcomes?" the Baroness asked idly.
"It would appear the Royal Navy has triumphed," the Baron replied. "The
Drachen was consumed by an unexplained explosion and the Japanese
cruiser chose an inconvenient moment to break up in flight. I wonder how
Captain Everett arranged that last bit. Neither vessel fired a shot."
"We must never underestimate the man's ingenuity," chided the Baroness.
"One imagines he'll attempt a landing now."
The Baron shrugged. "He'll need more than ingenuity to succeed. The
Germans and Japanese still hold the field with more forces than he can
possibly carry aboard his too small ships. And even if he could somehow
get past those, our position here on top of the mountain is impregnable."
Next week: We're Off To Save The Warfields?...
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